Anthony Smith needed to get his mind right heading into his UFC on ESPN 18 showdown with Devin Clark.
The former light heavyweight title challenger entered the matchup on a two-bout skid after back-to-back lopsided losses at the hands of Glover Teixeira and Aleksandar Rakic earlier this year. Where “Lionheart” once looked like a Top 5 talent at 205 pounds thanks to victories over the likes of Alexander Gustafsson, Volkan Oezdemir and Mauricio Rua, his recent performances had knocked him down several notches in the divisional pecking order.
That said, Smith didn’t put any added pressure on himself Saturday night, even after his showdown with Clark was elevated to headlining status when the originally scheduled heavyweight main event between Curtis Blaydes and Derrick Lewis was scrapped.
“I just wasn’t too concerned with anything,” Smith said. “In the past I’ve forced myself to feel how I think I’m supposed to feel. I just let myself feel it and make friends with it. In the past, I’ve felt nervous or anxious and then tried to convince myself I wasn’t.
“Today, I woke up and felt good, but was a little bit anxious. I just told myself it’s OK. The sun came up, it’s going to go down and I’m going to fight. No matter how I feel, I’m still walking in there. It’s a waste of time to worry about it. I just accept that’s how I feel right now. I’m fairly confident Devin felt worse than I did.”
That mindset seemed to pay off for Smith, as he submitted Clark with a triangle 2:34 into the opening round of their bout at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. It was Smith’s first victory since he tapped out Gustafsson in June 2019.
“It feels good. You feel losses forever. I remember what it felt like in 2007,” Smith said. “You do forget what it feels like to win. My last win was Gustafsson. I was out for a year injured and then lost to Glover and Rakic. So it’s been a year and a half. It’s nice to remind myself what it feels like.”
Like everyone else in the world, Smith has endured a trying 2020. To conclude his year with a victory adds some needed positivity to that struggle.
“It means the world to me,” he said. “Everyone just wants to get the hell out of 2020 in one piece. I’m no different. I just wanted to end the year with a ‘W.’ I want to keep getting better and go on a run. I don’t want to rush it. I’m not calling anybody out. I’m just going to take it one fight at a time. Let’s just get to 2021 and bring better things.”
While Smith said a more carefree mental state was key, he also acknowledges that his goal remains to capture UFC gold. He came up short in his first bid, losing a decision to then champ Jon Jones at UFC 235. His victory over Clark on Saturday got him back on the right track. More importantly, Smith was able to prove something to himself.
“I had to make a statement,” he said. “I don't give a s--t what the media says. I don't care what the fans say. I don't care what anybody says. It's about making a statement to myself. I’ve said it for years, I’m going to be a world champion.”